Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On Existentialism, Fundamentalism, and What Really Matters

Existentialism has long proclaimed an oddly unified message. I say oddly unified, because the existentialist movement in philosophy (and somewhat in theology) is anything but a unified movement. By its very nature, it proclaims a message of individualism and personal action. Yet, there are four points upon which the existentialists appear to be largely in agreement. These deal with the dilemma of humans-- the angst of our condition, the source of our anxiety and despair. These four major points, or better, problems, may be summed up as followed:
  1. The problem of meaninglessness-- Human life seems meaningless, really absurd in many ways. Why are we here? Is there any meaning to our existence? Is this all there is?
  2. The problem of isolation-- The bottom line is that we are tragically alone. At the final conclusion, it's just us. There is no one else. How do we deal with the problem (one all of us have felt) of loneliness and isolation?
  3. The problem of freedom-- Humanity is really free. Frighteningly free. We are, in the final analysis actors. We are free actors, though. We usually "make it up as we go along." Since we live in a world devoid of any real meaning and since we are, at our base alone, we must use our freedom to make meaning out of our lives. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility.
  4. The problem of death-- Humans are unique among earth's inhabitants in that we know that we shall die. This life will end, and we shall be no more. How do we live in the face of that awareness?
Death is the capstone. If you follow this line of thinking, life really is "one thing after another, then you die." Yet, if we are honest and brave, death also makes our lives worth living. Knowing that we will not smell a fragrance some day causes us to enjoy spring flowers all the more. Knowing that we may not see tomorrow, causes us to want to live today to its fullest.

I once read that Albert Camus said that sometimes we must give 100% commitment to that for which we have only 51% evidence. The psychologist Gordon Allport has written that religious folks are well aware that they cannot know their position with absolute certainty. Still they hold to the probability, the likelihood that God is there. Probability+faith+love is good enough to provide the certitude they need to have faith.

Life can seem pretty meaningless. Maybe, though Camus and Allport are on to something. Fundamentalist certainty notwithstanding (it is an illusion after all), true faith may trump it all.

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